Bypass Biases to Increase Recycling

Employee behavior patterns are at the heart of a company’s recycling program. Therefore, companies looking to increase recycling should also look at changing employee behavior. Here are two specific biases that might be affecting your coworkers’ recycling habits:

1. “People are more likely to recycle items that haven’t been distorted.”

In his article, “The Behavioral Economics of Recycling,” (published by the Harvard Business Review) author Remi Trudel suggests that individuals are more likely to recycle items that more closely resemble their original form. For example, employees at a company may easily identify full pieces of scrap paper as recyclable, while they may throw crumpled sticky notes or cut pieces of paper in the trash. When explaining the reason for this behavior pattern, Trudel suggests that “When an item is sufficiently distorted or changed in size or form, people perceive it as useless – as something without a future. So they throw it in the trash.”

Increase recycling of distorted materials
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Suggestions: To overcome this bias, you may have to reeducate employees on what can and cannot be recycled, including examples of the same material in multiple states. For instance, if employees should recycle kraft ingredient bags, try making educational material that shows the proper recycling option for kraft bags when they are full of ingredients, empty, ripped, or crumpled. Similarly, if employees should recycle a specific type of metal can, show recycling examples of the can both crushed and uncrushed. By training employees to see recyclable materials as recyclable in multiple forms, you may significantly increase recycling rates.

*Note that some recycling programs may require specific recyclable items to be disposed of in a particular way. Please check with your recycler prior to making educational material to clarify any disposal requirements.

Increase recycling by adding an element of self identity
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2. People are “more likely to recycle items linked to an element of their identity.”

To explain this bias, Trudel uses the example of Starbucks cups with individuals’ names on them. He states that individuals are more likely to recycle something, like a disposable coffee cup, if there is some element about that item that links to their identity.

Suggestions: One way to overcome this bias might be to work with it, or try to incorporate identifying elements into your recyclables. Trudel suggests that symbols, like the American flag or logos, link people to important group identities, which in turn increase their likelihood of recycling items with those identifiers. For instance, if your company produces a significant amount of label backing or other paper waste during the manufacturing process, try adding a small version of your logo to these paper products. Similarly, if your company uses a significant amount of disposable PPE (personal protective equipment), such as plastic coveralls or safety goggles, you could encourage employees to write their names on these items. This would establish a bond between the employee and the recyclable item, and might significantly increase recycling rates.

These are just two examples of behavior changes you can encourage in your workforce to increase recycling. For more best practices and recycling tips, contact us today.

***Feature Image Credit/Copyright Attribution: “tai11/Shutterstock”